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Minshew Magic at Mile High: Jaguars rally to stun Broncos, 26-24

Jags' tailback Fournette has 225 yards rushing yards -- 190 in the second half. Broncos' Von Miller has two sacks to give him 100 in his career.
Credit: AP Photo/David Zalubowski
Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew (15) throws a pass under pressure from Denver Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller, left, during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Sept. 29, 2019, in Denver.

DENVER — Bad teams find a way.

And after the Broncos lost at home to the Jacksonville Jaguars, 26-24, on another end-of-game field goal on a warm, sunny late-September afternoon at Empower Field at Mile High, is there any question what kind of team the Broncos have with their 0-4 record?

Never in the Broncos' 60-season history have they started a season 0-5. This Broncos team -- oh so close in both of their home losses -- are 0-4 and 6.5-point underdogs in their next game Sunday at the Los Angeles Chargers.

"This is something that can either make or break you as a team,'' said Denver defensive lineman Derek Wolfe. "You either stick together, or you separate and everybody becomes an individual and does what's best for himself. That's when football isn't fun anymore when you're not playing as a team.

"Adversity can bring you together or it can break you. We have to use it to bring us together. Use it as a positive."

Esprit de corps is one thing. The Broncos' problem is they don't seem to have what it takes. It did get heated between a couple players in the postgame locker room. Chris Harris Jr. in particular voiced some of his frustrations. Which was understandable. The Denver D -- which has been on a gradual slide since its Super Bowl 50 season of 2015 to  the point its now a shell of what it was four years ago -- was manhandled in the second half by the Jaguars' offensive line and running back Leonard Fournette. After rushing for 35 yards in the first half, Fournette had a preposterous 190 yards rushing on 21 carries in the second half.

"They were pushing us around and he's a big big back and he broke tackles and moved the pile,'' said Vic Fangio, who remains winless as a head coach. "And we got whipped."  

Before a crowd of 71,954 (not including 4,265 ticket-buying no shows) a Jaguars' team that started a sixth-round rookie quarterback in Gardner Minshew II and played without star cornerback Jalen Ramsey, the Broncos blew a 17-3 lead late in the first half, then went ahead, 24-23 on a Joe Flacco touchdown pass to Courtland Sutton with 1:32 left.

Too much time for Minshew II, the Jaguars' talented rookie quarterback. He calmly led the Jags on a 60-yard drive -- aided by a Von Miller roughing the passer penalty -- to bring Josh Lambo within easy range of the game-winning kick.

It's the second time the Broncos lost on the final drive with the opposing kicker nailing a game-winning field goal as time expired. They also lost this way to the Chicago Bears.

The turning point was as clear as Minshew's talent. The Broncos were leading 17-3 and driving with first down at the Jacksonville 33 yard line and 1:05 left in the first half.

Flacco, who otherwise had a fine game with 303 yards passing and three touchdown throws, misfired on a short middle route to Emmanuel Sanders. Jaguars' safety Ronnie Harrison intercepted, and made a nice return.

"It was my fault,'' Flacco said. "My eyes messed with me. I look at the pick obviously as a difference.''

The Jaguars then sandwiched possessions on both sides of the halftime intermission to go on a 17-0 run. Minshew made several sack escapes and throws to keep drives alive, including on a go-ahead, 18-yard touchdown pass to tight end James O'Shaughnessy.

"We had a hard time with the quarterback,'' Fangio said. "The whole personality of the game changed when we couldn't get that quarterback tackled when we had guys around in the pocket in a couple critical third downs.''

If its any consolation, Minshew left battered. He was sacked five times -- twice by Miller, who now has 100 in his career -- and was moving with a pronounced limp with an ice pack on his left knee as the Jaguars were waiting hours in the visitors locker room after their win because of an airplane delay.

"I just got hit in the lower body,'' Minshew said. "Just football stuff."

Minshew's athleticism -- he completed 19 of 33 for 213 yards with the two TD passes and no interceptions -- complemented the power running of Fournette. Fournette had just 35 yards rushing at halftime as the Jags' took advantage of the hamstring injury of Broncos' linebacker and leading tackler Josey Jewell, who left early in the first half.

"I pushed this one, I wanted to play,'' Jewell said when asked if he should have sat out a week. "It started to tighten up and I started to feel it grabbing so I decided not to be stubborn like I usually am.'' 

Lambo kicked his third of four field goals to give the Jaguars a 23-17 lead on the Broncos at the 2-minutes remaining but Flacco had just completed two big passes to Sanders and Sutton. The Broncos had first down at the Jacksonville 32.

After the 2-minute warning, Flacco connected with Sanders for a 27-yard gain to the Jacksonville 8 and on the next play he hit Sutton for an 8-yard touchdown on a slant. It was the second time in the game Flacco and Sutton connected for a touchdown pass off a skinny slant.

Sanders finished with five catches for 104 yards and Sutton had 62 yards on six catches and the two touchdowns.

But that last offensive drive was almost too easy for the Broncos. Had Jacksonville's defense offered a little more resistance, Minshew Magic might have run out of time. As it was, 1:32 was plenty.

"When you're down six, job one is to score,'' Fangio said.

"You want to be excited but at that point you're a fan,'' Flacco said. "You're sitting on the couch and you're a fan and you're somewhat nervous about how it might go. Winning a football ame in the NFL, there are not too many things that are greater than that in life. For you guys that don't know, it's an unbelievable feeling. You know how precious they are and you know how tough they are to get. You don't celebrate fully ... until that clock that hits zero and you won the game.''

The Denver defense, though, just hasn't been able to get a stop at critical junctures in the game beginning with the first drive of the season at Oakland. Just as Chubb's questionable roughing-the-passer penalty helped the Bears move into final-play, field-goal range, Miller was called for roughing the passer as his left hand got in on Minshew's facemask to send the Jaguars on their way. 

For most of the first half, the Broncos were checking off some boxes. An early lead? Check. Flacco threw a dump pass to Noah Fant near the line of scrimmage and the rookie tight end cut, skipped and ran his way in for a 25-yard touchdown.

That capped a two-play drive early in the first quarter. On the first play, Phillip Lindsay scampered 28 yards around right end.

An early sack from Miller? Check. Miller whipped right tackle Jawaan Taylor and smothered Minshew. The well-informed sellout crowd at Empower Field at Mile High -- aware that Miller, Bradley Chubb and the Broncos were sackless through their first three games -- roared its approval.

"I was able to get on the board with sacks, but everybody knows the win column is the most important stat for us,'' Miller said. "It was a tough one. It's a tough patch for us. There's really no time to feel soory for ourselves. We've got to keep working."

Chubb also got his first sack in six games, going back to last year. Check-check. Miller would get another sack in the second quarter. It was the 100th sack of Miller's career. He reached that milestone in his 124th game. Only five pass rushers -- Reggie White (96 games), DeMarcus Ware (113), Bruce Smith (115), Larence Taylor (122) and Jared Allen (122) -- got to 100 quicker. Check, check, check.

Get some chunk plays? Check. Besides the Lindsay run and Fant touchdown, Flacco hit Sanders with a 39-yard pass early in the second quarter that beat Tre Herndon – who started in place of Ramsey, who missed the weak of practice for multiple reasons.

On the next play, Flacco hit Sutton on a slant for a 7-yard touchdown. The Broncos made it look easy in going up 14-3.

Score more than 16 points for the first time in eight games? Check. Brandon McManus finished off a promising drive with a 33-yard field goal to make it, 17-3 with 4:20 left in the half. He also had made both his 33-yard, extra points.

Two more boxes for the Broncos to check in the second half: Their first takeaway of the season. And finish off Jacksonville to record their first win. Neither happened.

Flacco was playing well, completing 15 of 25 for 197 yards and two touchdowns with 1 minute remaining in the half. But he then misfired and was intercepted by safety Ronnie Harrison, who returned it 32 yards to Denver territory.

The Jaguars got a second field goal from Josh Lambo off the turnover. Minshew then threw two touchdown passes to complete Jacksonville's first two drives of the second half.

"He's spinning around, he's breaking tackles,'' said Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone, whose season record improved to 2-2. "It's like when you're 12 and you're playing in the street with a bunch of guys.''

Bronco Bits

Slot corner/safety Kareem Jackson didn’t play because of a hamstring pull. The plan is for him to play next week at the Los Angeles Chargers. Duke Dawson took his place in the slot; Will Parks at safety. …

Defensive end Derek Wolfe (high ankle sprain) and inside linebacker Josey Jewell (hamstring) did play. …

Cornerback De’Vante Bausby of AAF got his first start with the Broncos, second in the NFL. He replaced Isaac Yiadom, who had been replacing the injured Bryce Callahan. …

Special teams standout Joe Jones was inactive. He practiced the past two weeks, but partially torn triceps are not easy injuries to recover from. …

Fred Brown made his NFL debut as the Broncos punt coverage gunner and No. 4 receiver. He replaced rookie Juwann Winfree, who was inactive. …

With fullback Andy Janovich active for the first time this season, the Broncos decided to keep tight end/fullback Andrew Beck on their game-day roster and didn’t dress tight end Troy Fumagalli. 

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